The problems associated with alcohol can be split into short-term, i.e. problems that could occur on the night or the morning after, and long-term problems, those that can occur after continuous heavy drinking.

     
   

The good news

A large percentage of the population drink alcohol and most of them do it with few ill effects. There is even evidence to show that alcohol may have positive effects when drunk moderately, in older men and post-menopausal women. Other research suggests that light to moderate drinking may help reduce the risk of diabetes in later life, certain types of stroke, osteoporosis and Alzheimer's disease.

Health professionals have concluded that drinking no more than three to four units a day for men, or two to three units a day for women is a healthy level for adults. No recommendations exist for children and young people, as we don't yet know the long-term consequences of their drinking. There are situations where these recommendations change e.g. if you are pregnant, playing a lot of sport, or taking medication.

   
   

Short term problems

Binge drinking has a number of different definitions, but it just means drinking a lot in one session, enough to get drunk. There are a number of short-term problems associated with this pattern of drinking.

  Hangovers

See our special section on how to avoid, or cure a hangover.

Violence

Alcohol affects mood and while some people may burst into tears or hug all their friends, others become violent and aggressive.

Accidents

Alcohol makes people careless and that can be really dangerous, 40% of all household fires are linked with people who have been drinking and alcohol is a factor in at least 7% of accidental drowning. Half of all adults admitted to hospital with head injuries are drunk.

Hospitalisation

About 1000 people under the age of 15 are admitted to hospital each year with acute alcohol intoxication - i.e. drinking so much that your body begins to shut down. Find out more about a night in A&E .

Alcohol and drugs

Alcohol reacts with some medicines and can be dangerous when used with recreational drugs. The mix of alcohol and drugs can dehydrate you even more, put extra pressure on the liver and kidneys, further reduce your ability to make good judgements and even lead to coma.

Regretted sex

Alcohol lowers your inhibitions so you could end up having sex that you regret the next morning. Even if you are careful and use a condom, being drunk can mean you have problems putting it on properly. This puts you at risk from sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy.

   
   

Long term damage

Although you may not think this is anything to worry about now, heavy drinking when you're younger can establish drinking patterns later on.

 

Dependence (alcoholism)

Alcohol dependency is the most common addiction in the UK; it affects up to 9.7% of adults and is responsible for thousands of deaths. If you are worried about your drinking or someone else's drinking have a look at our links page to find out more.

Nutrition deficiency

Alcohol leads to a loss of vitamin B complex, a vital group of nutrients. Vitamin B deficiency can cause skin damage, diarrhoea and depression. Decreased levels of iron can lead to anaemia in the long term.

Liver

Your liver is vital; it breaks down nutrients so the body can use them, detoxifies any poisons and removes cell debris. These functions are so important that you couldn't survive more than 24 hours without a liver. Your liver is the organ responsible for processing alcohol into non-toxic compounds. If you drink heavily over a number of years your liver cells will suffer damage and it won't be able to carry out its vital functions.

Brain

Long term drinking will result in a loss of brain cells.

Cancer

Drinking increases the risk of cancer of the mouth, larynx, pharynx and oesophagus, liver, stomach, colon and rectum and possibly breast.

Heart disease

Alcohol can increase the risk of heart problems and high blood pressure.

Digestive system

Constant use of alcohol causes irritation and inflammation of the stomach and intestinal lining, causing ulcers and damage to the pancreas.

Reproductive problems

Men can suffer from an inability to get an erection, shrinking testes and penis and a reduced sperm count. In women the menstrual cycle can be disrupted, it may increase the risk of miscarriage and can result in low birth weight and birth defects.

Mental health

Alcohol is linked to many disorders including clinical depression and an estimated 65% of suicides.